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Shattered shards at the airport In gate on Saturday

Phuket Airport Invasion: PAD Stops All Flights

Friday, August 29, 2008
5pm UPDATE. More soon

ALL FLIGHTS in and out of Phuket Airport were halted just before 5pm today amid a siege by hundreds of Peoples Alliance for Democracy protestors.

They attempted to take control of the island's tourist hub and fought their way past police and security guards into the airport and, eventually, onto the tarmac.

Domestic flights were halted, international flights delayed then halted, with arriving passengers trapped inside the airport.

Thai Airways eventually suspended all flights because of the protest, and because of a strike in support of PAD by all 25,000 airline workers nationally.

This afternoon on Phuket, demonstrators smashed their way into the airport's VIP rooms, then were able to access the tramac through Gate 66.

At that point, the action had achieved its aim and all flights had to be stopped.

On the road outside the airport, departing passengers were prevented from reaching their flights by the cordon of possibly more than 1000 PAD protestors.

Talks are continuing this evening between the Governor and the island's PAD leader to resolve the crisis.

At 3.44pm, Phuket Airport General Manager Wicha Nurnlop told Phuketwan that Thai Airways domestic aircraft had ceased flying in and and out.

He said at the time that international flights were still operating, but with delays. Later, they too were halted.

Passengers arriving on the last few inbound flights could not leave the airport because of the throng of protestors.

Some PAD protestors eventually broached security lines to enter the main airport building, then reportedly broke into the adjoining VIP rooms, and even reached the tarmac.

Khun Wicha said when he spoke to Phuketwan that he was trying to contact Bangkok Airways and Thai Air Asia to tell them to stop flights, as Thai Airways had already done.

Earlier in the afternoon, airport staff and security officials attempted to maintain arrivals and departures. But as day wore on, their task grew more difficult.

The Secretary to the Governor of Phuket, Khun Manat Nurak, said there were about 1000 protestors involved

He told Phuketwan that the Governor, Niran Kanlayanamid, was in talks with the PAD leader on Phuket, aimed at solving the crisis.

Passengers departing Phuket were forced to alight from vehicles at the tee-junction in Nai Yang, then they had to walk with their luggage to the airport, with the prospect of catching flights becoming more uncertain every minute.

University lecturer Sutam Sikejarn said he had heard a PAD leader in Bangkok call for the Phuket airport to be closed this afternoon in retaliation for police attempts to stop the Bangkok protests that morning.

Jamlong Simeang, the PAD leader, urged airports around Thailand to be closed, Khun Sutam said.

Phuket's Chief of Police, General Apirak Hongtong, told Phuketwan this afternoon that more than 100 police were at the airport and he had called for reinforcements from the regional headquarters at Suratani.

Other police were on the way from Phang Nga, Ranong and Krabi.

Vice Admiral Supot Pruksa, Commander, Third Naval Area, would be called in to take charge of the region in a full-scale security alert, overriding the provincial governors.

But the vice admiral told Phuketwan that the airport protest was a matter for police at this stage and he did not envisage the need for him to take charge.

The Phuket protest began at 1pm and came as a surprise because all the PAD activities have centred on government buildings in Bangkok until today.

Thai Airways flight TG609 at 2.40pm and TG986 at 3pm were certain to have been affected, with some passengers unlikely to have made the flights to Bangkok because of the crush.

An airline employee told Phuketwan that there were angry shouts from the protestors every time they saw an aircraft land or depart. She said it seemed they were determined to stop flights.

The airline employee said there were probably ''more than 1000'' in the protest.

Earlier in the afternoon, airport authorities reacted quickly once they realised a major demonstration was underway.

A cordon of staff blocked off the airport, only permitting ticketted passengers to enter. All luggage was being carefully checked.

The Phuket action by protestors comes amid reports of intensifying action in Bangkok and throughout the country today.

A national strike by railway workers has been followed by union calls for all 25,000 workers at Thai Airways to strike in protest at the Samak Government.

Strikes were said to be ordered by more than 40 unions today, with workers asked to join the Bangkok protests tonight.

Phuketwan was told that doctors and nurses in Nakornratchasima had stopped work, except for emergency cases.

Phuketwan COMMENT

THE PHUKET airport protest by the People's Alliance for Democracy will not win it any friends among the hundreds of people affected, or those island residents and visitors looking on.

To carry their action to a peaceful tourist destination outside Bangkok, where international visitors are inconvenienced and caught in crowded scrums, is to increase the scale of the protest dramatically.

The airport siege may get the PAD onto international television screens, but the reports are not likely to be favorable.

An unsightly protest at Phuket airport is a strike at the heart of Thailand's entire tourism industry, worth 90 billion baht to Thailand from Phuket alone last year.

Until now, the PAD has targetted politicians.

Now for the first time, it is clearly damaging Thailand's commercial interests and involving innocent bystanders.

Whether they are right or wrong, that adds considerably to the level of danger.

If there is any positive to come from today's action, it is the unequivocal practical proof that Phuket does not have a large enough police presence for national security or public safety.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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The PAD is deliberately damaging sensitive sectors of Thai economy, hoping to increase pressure on the PM Samak to resign. This is a quite efficient strategy.
The downside is that it involves nuisance, inconvenience and damage to innocent visitors, and damages the PAD image within Thai and especially Phuket based business circles. should there be a casualty due to the PAD action, public sympathy is likely to dwindle and disappear.

Posted by Patrick M. Legrain on August 30, 2008 19:48

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The action of airport for the protest is really affecting the image of the PAD. I am an innocent visitor who is being forced to stay on Phuket for 5 more days... I don't have any sympathy for the PAD, I really hate them for taking this dramatic action to caused inconvenience to others

Posted by Alex N on August 31, 2008 01:44

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So what does this mean for international visitors who currently have plans to visit Phuket in the latter part of September? Any advice? I always read about what a peaceful people the Thai were, why take things out on innocent travelers trying to learn more about your culture? <b>Editor:</b> Good question. My advice to all international visitors would be to come. The invasion of Phuket airport was a huge mistake that is unlikely to be repeated. Tourism and politics don't mix. There's as much likelihood of visitors who take appropriate care getting caught up in a demonstration here as there is of getting hit by a bus at home. If the issues are not resolved this week, we will be surprised.

Posted by Anonymous on September 3, 2008 04:20


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